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NCTE President Talks about Advocacy, Teacher Evaluation, High-Stakes Testing, and Membership - Previous Revision

April 30, 2012


Dear Council Members,


Keith Gilyard photoAfter attending our most recent Executive Committee meeting last weekend in Washington, DC, which was held on the heels of our annual Literacy Education Advocacy Day, I am excited to update you about some of the recent actions of the Council.


First, a hearty band of NCTE members formed a notable presence on the Hill on April 19 as they engaged in daylong meetings with legislators, aides, and other professionals with the express aim of promoting NCTE’s 2012 Legislative Platform, which was adopted by the EC in February. This document reflects several of our particular calls, including those for a comprehensive literacy policy, investment in team-based professional learning, equitable and valid assessments, and sophisticated teacher evaluation systems. Barbara Cambridge, director of the NCTE-DC Office and coordinator of Advocacy Day, conveyed to me her view that the day went well. We cannot assess overall impact at this point, but it is apparent that legislators and staffers, largely through Barbara’s efforts, are paying increased attention to NCTE’s collective voice. This development suggests that we continue and perhaps intensify our advocacy initiatives on behalf of students and teachers.


Teacher evaluation, one of our planks for 2012, was also the focus issue for the EC meeting, which was held April 20-21. The overall guiding question was this: What should the Council accomplish regarding teacher evaluation in the next three to five years? Subsidiary questions related to members’ perceptions, our knowledge of external realities and trends, our organization’s strategic position and capacity to act, and the ethical implications of choices that we would make. Ensuing deliberations led to the adopting of several motions regarding teacher evaluation. Perhaps most notable at this point is the strong position that the Council is taking against reliance on value-added measures. In line with this concern—and our legislative platform—the EC adopted the “NCTE Position Statement on Teacher Evaluation." In sum, we hope that our advocacy, governance, and informational endeavors will lead to, as indicated in the position statement, “increased teacher effectiveness and improved student learning.” 


In a similar vein, I am pleased to report that NCTE is a signatory—we signed on the first day possible—to the recent “National Resolution on High-Stakes Testing” forwarded by FairTest and aligned organizations and individuals. The resolution calls for the overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the reduction of testing mandates, the promotion of multiple forms of learning assessment, and a ban on prescribing a fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators. As one can readily discern given my update, this resolution is consistent with recent actions and policies of the Council. It is consonant with our long-term positions as well.


Speaking of “long-term” reminds me to address briefly the financial situation of the Council. As we adopted the budget for the next fiscal year (as we do every April), we had to grapple seriously with the issue of declining membership, a situation faced by most professional organizations these days given the economy and certain technological affordances, and consider a sustainable model for NCTE. Our state is far from dire, but it is incontrovertible that a primary function as a convention-and-journals club will not be productive in the coming years. As Kent Williamson, our estimable Executive Director, has been articulating for awhile, NCTE has to become more a movement than a club. Fortunately, I think that such a shift is about to occur as we launch the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE) and become an increasingly dynamic presence in the lives of interdisciplinary teams of teachers in schools throughout the country. By leading this broad-based coalition effort, we not only will work to shift the focus of education reform from an overreliance on incentives and punishments to a sustained focus on capacity building, we will position NCTE as a primary resource for those who seek varied professional learning opportunities across the span of a career. This represents a bold new way to pursue the Council’s century-old mission.      


In closing, I thank NCTE staff and the Executive Committee for the hard work that they do. Moreover, I thank all of you for the support that you extend and the expertise you share.




Keith Gilyard, NCTE President

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A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts